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Alderman defends Lockport Council against mayor’s nepotism charge

LOCKPORT – Alderman Richard E. Abbott said Friday that the Common Council majority is not guilty of the charge of nepotism laid against it by Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey.

The Republican mayor slammed the Council for voting Wednesday to return a full-time assessor position to the city budget, a move she vetoed Thursday. The four aldermen who voted for the move made it clear they want Lena D. Villella to get the job, which has a salary set at $68,000 a year. That’s $19,000 more than Villella was slated to earn this year as appraiser.

Villella is the sister of Alderwoman Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward, who abstained on the 4-1 Council vote. Villella also is the city’s real property appraiser. She has worked for the city since 1987 and has served as acting assessor twice.

Abbott, D-5th Ward, said the way he sees it, nepotism is appointing a friend or relative “to a job they have no merit for. In this case, that does not apply.” He said Villella, who has passed several civil service examinations for assessor positions, is obviously well qualified. “The fact that she’s an alderman’s sister is merely coincidental,” Abbott said.

McCaffrey said one of her accomplishments as mayor was pushing a strict anti-nepotism policy through the Council in 2014. “In my opinion, it is financially irresponsible and a serious lapse in judgment to demand that an alderman’s sister be promoted and financially benefit. Isn’t this the type of behavior that gripped City Hall for decades and needs to stop?” she asked.

The mayor charged that the Council wants to increase staffing in the Assessor’s Office from two people to three, but Abbott said that’s not true. He said he and his colleagues want Villella to work as both assessor and appraiser.

McCaffrey also took a swing at the Council for rejecting an agreement with Niagara Falls to share that city’s assessor, James R. Bird, one day a week. Aldermen who voted for the Villella move said Lockport needs a full-time assessor, but also could share her to work as assessor for other communities.

“So, if we share this person, then they aren’t full-time for the City of Lockport, are they? So which is it?” McCaffrey asked.

Abbott said, “We thought we could possibly do that. We’re not looking for someplace like Clarence or Lancaster. We would probably start with a place like Wilson or Somerset if we could work it out.”

Wilson has used Niagara Falls’ assessor for several years, and Somerset also did until the end of 2015. It now uses former Cheektowaga assessor Brian Hess.

Abbott said Lockport never really had a shared services deal with the Falls, because the Falls City Council never voted on it. “There was no urgency to pass it on Niagara Falls’ part,” he said.